Who’ll run Britain plc

Business issues, such as the heated argument over Labour’s proposed National Insurance hike, have taken centre stage in the first week of the 2010 General Election. But which party has the strongest economic team? Mark Leftly and Margareta Pagano look at the leading contenders
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The Independent Online


Alistair Darling, Chancellor of the Exchequer

Age: 56

Education: Loretto School, East Lothian; Aberdeen University

Quirky fact: Darling's late cat, Sybil, made headlines as she was the first moggy in Downing Street for 10 years

Proof that admitting to early life soft drug use no longer hurts a political career, Darling entered Number 11 in 2007. His timing wasn't good: having barely moved in the furniture, Darling immediately faced the gravest financial crisis since the Great Depression. Darling has survived Gordon Brown's attempts to shift him as he has been widely regarded as a competent, if none-too-charismatic, Chancellor. He showed his partisanship last month, though, during the televised debate with Osborne and Cable, when he accused the Tories of potentially "tipping us back into recession".

Lord Mandelson, Business, Innovation & Skills secretary

Age: 56

Education: Hendon County Grammar School; St Catherine's College, Oxford

Quirky fact: Mandelson sported a bushy moustache for most of the 1980s

The comeback king, having been forced from government twice, Mandelson is now fighting City bosses over their excessive pay and opposition to the NI increase.

Stephen Timms, Financial secretary to the Treasury

Age: 55

Education: Farnborough Grammar School; Emmanuel College, Cambridge

Quirky fact: Timms is a member of the Ramblers Association

Successfully negotiated with the Tories to get the Digital Economy Act on to the statute books.

Ed Balls, Children, Schools & Families Secretary

Age: 43

Education: Nottingham High School; Keble College, Oxford

Quirky fact: A keen footballer and fan, Balls can often be seen at Norwich City matches

Brown’s closest confidant is thought to be harbouring leadership ambitions. Although his brief is education, Balls was behind most of the party’s early economic policies and still has influence on financial issues.

Lord Myners, City minister

Age: 61

Education: Truro School; University of London

Quirky fact: Labour MP Myners was a financial journalist for two years at The Daily Telegraph in the 1970s.

One of his first acts was to help design the £500bn bailout of the banks. He has been particularly damning of the EU’s proposals to regulate heavily the private equity and hedge fund sectors.

The Conservatives

George Osborne, Shadow Chancellor,

Age: 39,

Education: St. Paul's, Oxford University

Pastimes: Not content with UK politics, likes to mug up on what’s happening in Washington.

Osborne has played a blinder by pledging that Labour’s plans to put up National Insurance tax next year will not be upheld if the Tories win. The move has won over much of the business community which had been wary of Osborne. To fund the difference, Osborne has promised to cut an extra £6bn off the public spending bill in the next financial year by halting spending on new IT systems and leaving thousands of public sector vacancies unfilled.

Kenneth Clarke, shadow Business Secretary

Age: 69

Education: Nottingham High School, Cambridge University

Quirky fact: It’s well known that he loves jazz, smoking cigars and watching Nottingham Forest but less so birdwatching and Formula One motor racing.

It’s been said that Clarke is the best prime minister the Tories never had. He’s been as tough as a rhinoceros against Mandelson’s alligator-like charm.

Sir James Sassoon, Adviser on financial regulation and banking to George Osborne

Age: 54,

Education: Eton, Oxford University.

Quirky fact: Distantly related to war poet Siegfried Sassoon.

After a career as a banker, Sassoon joined the Treasury in 2002, but switched to the Tories last year and was one of the architects of George Osborne’s proposals that the banking bit of the FSA be taken back by the Bank of England.

Phil Hammond, Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury

Age: 54

Education: Shenfield School, (comprehensive), Oxford University.

Quirky fact: Likes cinema, hill-walking in Scotland, reading and according to the New Statesman worth £9m.

A businessman before becoming an MP, Hammond is seen as something of a high-flier. He has said it is unsustainable for 90 per cent of public-sector workers to retire on final-salary pensions while only 5 per cent of their private-sector counterparts have such benefits.

Mark Prisk, shadow minister for business and enterprise.

Age: 47

Education: Truro School, Reading University.

Quirky facts: Rugby, cricket, a member of Saracens RFC. Enjoys singing and is vice chairman of the Parliament Choir

Prisk wants a simpler life for small businesses and his big campaign is reforming all business taxation but specifically the IR35 rules for contract workers and the selfemployed. He’s promised to change and simplify the IR35 rules which he reckons have cost UK businesses some £73m over the past decade but has brought in barely any revenue for Treasury. A chartered surveyor by training, Prisk ran his own company marketing property to environmental businesses, so knows the pitfalls of bureaucracy better than most career politicians.

Liberal Democrats

Vince Cable, shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer

Age: 66

Education: Nunthorpe Grammar School, York; Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge

Quirky fact: In the 1970s Cable was a special adviser to future Labour leader John Smith. He is an enthusiastic ballroom dancer.

The former Labour councillor has undergone the most dramatic image turnaround of any British politician over the past decade. Unfashionable and even unpopular with sections of his own party, Cable is now as close as a politician can get to being a national treasure. A Shell chief economist, Cable seemed to have by far the best grasp of financial policy among leading politicians as the crisis unfolded and produced belly laughs when he compared Brown to Mr Bean.

John Thurso, Business, Education & Skills spokesman

Age: 56

Education: Eton

Quirky fact: Thurso's real surname is Sinclair – he is known as 'Thurso' because he is the Viscount of the Scottish town

Thurso has supported the reduction of the deficit and has accused the nationalised banks of failing to live up to their obligations to lend.

Jeremy Browne, Treasury Spokesman

Age: 39

Education: Nottingham University

Quirky fact: Describing himself as "a passionate sports fan", Browne supports Queens Park Rangers

The former financial PR guru was the first MP to appeal successfully against allegedly wrongly claimed expenses. Browne has since claimed credit for getting the proposed 10p increase in cider tax removed from the Finance Bill last week. This is an important victory for Browne, as he is looking to defend a wafer-thin majority in his Taunton constituency, part of the cider producing county of Somerset.

Lorely Burt, shadow Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform spokesman

Age: 55

Education: University College, Swansea

Quirky fact: Burt hopes to become part of the LibDems new golden couple – husband Richard is Parliamentary candidate for West Worcerstershire

Burt will always have an edge over her boss, John Thurso, whom she bested before he was promoted in 2008. The previous year, she beat him to the chairmanship of the parliamentary party, the first woman to hold the position. Having previously held the small business brief, Burt is considered one of the great advocates within the House of Commons of small and medium sized enterprises. In 2008, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) gave Burt an award for being the most “business friendly” MP.

Norman Baker, shadow Transport spokesman

Age: 53

Education: Royal Liberty School, Gidea Park in Essex; Royal Holloway College, University of London

Quirky fact: A former regional director of music chain Our Price, Baker has an encyclopaedic knowledge of 1960s pop

This committed environmentalist promised a to reopen thousands of miles of railway lines by switching money set aside for roads.